Country mouse at Pony Club tetrathalon

It was a horse ride down memory lane at the weekend, as the children took part in a Pony Club tetrathlon. The venue: the Test Valley village where I grew up. The organisers: my brother and sister-in-law. The overnight stay: with my parents. Making sure three competitors arrive at the right sport in the right kit involves 12 changing parades reminiscent of a bedroom farce.

Turning up with your pony at the swimming would be as inconvenient as arriving at the start of the running phase with your air pistol. The team names read like a list of the best hunts (from which most Pony Club branches take their names) and most beautiful areas of south and west England: Cattistock, Mendip Farmers, Old Berks, Cowdray Hunt, Blackmore and Sparkford Vale, and Wylye Valley.

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An unintended but inevitable consequence was the sense of being at a kind of glorified farm visit. Horseboxes had to negotiate a large gaggle of geese to park in the field. The running phase was beside a carpet of vivid-yellow oilseed rape. The swimmers were surrounded by fields of wheat and bags of sulphur had been moved aside to give the shooters space in the corn barn. The riders were too focused to think much about the waving barley crop, but it’s all part of their DNA as country children.

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